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Polish court rejects appeal against acquittal of women over anti-religious law

Charges brought after Virgin Mary adorned with rainbow halo

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(Screenshot courtesy of Amnesty International)

A Polish court on Wednesday threw out the appeal by Polish prosecutors over the acquittal of three women who were charged in 2020 for violation of under article 196 of the Polish Criminal Code colloquially referred to as “offending religious beliefs.”

Article 196 of Poland’s penal code states that offending people’s religious feelings by publicly outraging an object or place of religious worship is a criminal offense.

The three woman, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna — whose last names have not been released — were arrested in 2019 and charged the next year after they stuck up posters of the Virgin Mary adorned with a rainbow halo, symbolic of the popular flag used to represent the LGBTQ community. Had they been convicted they face up to two years in prison each.

“This case is emblematic of a number of disturbing anti-human rights trends in Poland. Not only is space for free expression, activism and peaceful protest shrinking, but the climate of homophobia in the country is worsening amid an increase in hate crimes, the introduction of LGBTI free zones by local councils and attempts to ban Pride marches,” Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner for Europe Catrinel Motoc said.

“Today’s decision comes as a huge relief but cannot disguise the fact that these three women should never have been put on trial in the first place. Distributing posters of the Virgin Mary wearing a rainbow halo should never be criminalised, so it is right that the appeal against their acquittal was rejected,” Motoc added.

LGBTQ rights have become a deeply divisive issue in predominantly Roman Catholic Poland. Religious conservatives condemn what they say is an “ideology” bent on destroying the traditional family while more liberal Poles demand tolerance and equal treatment of what they regard as an oppressed minority, Euronews noted.

In March 2021, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna were acquitted of “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code in relation to the use of posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo symbolic of the LGBTQ flag around her head and shoulders.

They were acquitted by the first instance court, but the prosecutor’s appeal brought them to court again, with the hearing scheduled on Dec. 8, 2021.

“Article 196 provides overly broad scope for the authorities to prosecute and criminalize individuals, in violation of their right to freedom of expression. As such, it is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The authorities arrested Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International campaigners. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019. In July 2020, the authorities officially charged the three activists, alleging that the posters “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”.

In November 2020, Amnesty International, Campaign Against Homophobia, Freemuse, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe sent a joint public statement urging the Polish prosecutor general to drop the charges and ensure that the three women are allowed to carry out their human rights work without harassment and reprisals.

More than 275,000 people had joined Amnesty International’s campaign urging the Polish prosecutor general to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights activists.

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Two LGBTQ people named to Chilean president-elect’s Cabinet

Gabriel Boric and his government takes office on March 11

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Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric. (Photo via the Chilean government)

Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric on Friday named two openly LGBTQ people to his Cabinet.

Marco Antonio Ávila, who is a gay man, will be the country’s education minister. Alexandra Benado, who is a lesbian, will be Chile’s sports minister.

Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for Movilh (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual), a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, applauded Boric for naming Ávila and Benado to his Cabinet.

“The visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity is no longer an impediment to access any position in Chile,” said Zúñiga in a press release. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are irrelevant for the positions, whether they are public or private. Capability is the only thing that matters.”

Boric and his government will take office on March 11. Chile’s marriage equality law goes into effect the day before.

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Lesbian couple murdered, dismembered in Mexico border city

Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez killed in Ciudad Juárez

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From left: Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez. (Photo via Facebook)

Authorities in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez on Sunday found the dismembered bodies of a lesbian couple along a local highway.

The dismembered body parts of Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez were found in plastic bags that had been placed along the Juárez-El Porvenir Highway.

El Diario, a Mexican newspaper, reported the married women lived in El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez. Authorities said relatives last spoke with Ramírez and Medina on Saturday afternoon.

A source in Ciudad Juárez with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Thursday confirmed Ramírez and Medina “were lesbian women” and their murder was “very violent.”

Members of Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua, an LGBTQ rights group in the state of Chihuahua in which Ciudad Juárez is located, and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván are among those who have expressed outrage over the women’s murders. Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua on Wednesday also urged local and state authorities to investigate whether the murder was a hate crime.

“People of sexual diversity are questioned, including their existence through heteronormative discourse,” said the group in a statement. “They have the right to a life free of violence in which they exercise all their rights, in addition to living without fear or fear of rejection and aggressions that can unfortunately escalate to hate crimes.”

El Diario reported Ramírez and Medina are two of the nine women who have been reported killed in Ciudad Juárez since the beginning of the year.

Personas de las Diversidades Afectivo Sexuales, an LGBTQ rights group in Ciudad Juárez, and feminist organizations on Thursday organized a protest during which participants demanded local, state and federal authorities do more to end to violence against women in the city. The press release that announced the demonstration specifically cited Ramírez and Medina.

“We seek justice and clarification in the murder of Nohemí and Yulissa, a lesbian couple who was found in Juárez-Porvenir Highway,” it reads.

LGBTQ activists and feminist groups participate in a protest against femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Jan. 20, 2022. (Courtesy photo)
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Transgender Mexicans receive amended birth certificates at country’s consulates

New policy announced Wednesday in Mexico City

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Wednesday announced transgender people who were born in Mexico can receive an amended birth certificate at any of the country’s consulates.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard is among those who spoke at a ceremony at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Mexico City where he and other officials detailed the policy. Trans Congresswomen Salma Luévano and María Clemente García attended alongside Sen. Malú Micher, trans activist Jessica Marjane, Global Equality Caucus Deputy Director Aron Le Fevre and Amicus Director Juan Pablo Delgado are among those who attended.

Amicus, an advocacy group that is based in the state of Guanajuato, represented two trans Mexicans who brought legal action after consulates in the U.S. denied their request for birth certificates that correspond with their gender identity.

Victory Institute International Programs Manager Mateo de la Torre in 2019 sought legal recourse, known as an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system, after the Mexican Consulate in D.C. said it could not change the sex on his birth certificate.

Delgado earlier this week told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Guanajuato that one judge asked De La Torre to file his “amparo” in person in Tijuana because his signature did not correspond with the one on his Mexican ID. Delgado said a trans woman from Guanajuato filed her own “amparo” in 2021 after the Mexican Consulate in Houston said it could not issue her an amended birth certificate.

Trans Mexicans who want to receive an amended birth certificate need to provide their original document, but Delgado told the Blade that consulates can access them through a data base. De La Torre on Wednesday received an amended birth certificate at the Mexican Consulate in D.C.

“This birth certificate comes after a decade of living in my truth as a transgender man and after years of advocating for my right to be recognized as such,” De La Torre told the Blade. “In Mexico and abroad, many trans people face discrimination, violence and endless bureaucratic hurdles in their fight for legal recognition, and after all this time I am most grateful for the ability to vote in my country’s elections.”

“This new process has the possibility of being life saving for many of our most vulnerable community members, and I will continue to advocate for the day that all trans people living in Mexico are also afforded the right to a process that is free of discrimination and based on self-attestation,” added De La Torre.

Delgado described the new policy as “a great advancement towards the recognition of gender identity” in Mexico.

“It’s a super important advancement,” said Delgado.

Delgado noted Mexico City and 18 of Mexico’s 32 states currently allow trans people to receive birth certificates that correspond to their gender identity.

The Mexican Senate has passed a bill that would codify the Foreign Affairs Ministry policy into law. The measure is now before the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, which is the lower house of the country’s Congress.

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